Jacksonville Looks To Test Minnesota’s Defense in Week Two of the Preseason
Upon the Jaguars arrival to the Twin Cities, both coaching staffs along with 12 players from each team met Tuesday, to avoid intra-squad fighting. Seemingly every other joint practice this week around the NFL came to blows one way or another.
“I have a group of guys that we meet with,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Yesterday, one of them suggested it and I thought it was a good idea so I talked to their guys. They’re going to get their guys together so … Jacksonville Coach Marrone, myself and the rest of our team, we really don’t want to end up being on TV like some of these other things. We just want to get out there and get some work done and try to get each of us better.”
It worked, no physical or verbal altercations this week leading up to Saturday’s game on NFL Network. However, Jacksonville did practice without it’s two most provocative players, Donte Fowler Jr. and Jalen Ramsey. Both players were suspended this week by the team for violating team rules. Fowler has a history of intra-squad altercations and Ramsey likes to talk trash; a lot of trash.
180 Degree Turn For Blake Bortles
This time last year, the Jags were entrenched in dual practices with the New England Patriots. Jaguars quarterback had a five-interception practice leading the team to look elsewhere for their triggerman. With no better option, Jacksonville ended up playing Bortles in 2017.
The move paid off as Bortles had his best year as professional leading Jacksonville to the AFC Championship game. Bortles’ performance last season earned him a new contract worth $54 million, with $26 million guaranteed.
Now the man, Bortles seems to have a firm grasp of the offense and the team due to rave reviews about his play during training camp.
Bortles looks to improve upon his performance last week vs. the New Orleans Saints; completing 6 of 9 passes for 53 yards, scoring on a short bootleg in one series of work.
Saturday’s matchup with the Vikings is an excellent barometer for Bortles, and the young Jags offense as Minnesota returns one of the league’s top defenses.
Who is Jacksonville’s No. 1 Option at Receiver?
Due to the departures of Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, Jacksonville is in the market for a number one option a receiver. However, no one receiver for the Jaguars has emerged as a true number one receiver during camp. It doesn’t seem to worry receiver coach Keenan McCardell one bit.
“I like it [there not being a true No. 1 receiver] because everybody is involved,” McCardell said. “Everybody stays sharp and involved. Don’t get me wrong, to have an Antonio Brown, a Julio Jones or somebody like that, it makes it probably a lot easier for [offensive coordinator] Nate [Hackett] as a play-caller… It is great to be able to have a group of guys that you can always count on any one of those guys to make a play.”
Veterans Donte Moncrief and Marquise Lee will get the most opportunities to prove they can be the “go to” guy. Second-round draft pick D.J. Chark has turned some heads as the rookie used his blazing speed to catch balls over defenders such as Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Second-year receiver Dede Westbrook is playing his way into more first-team reps due to a strong camp. Also, you cannot leave out second-year, undrafted receiver Keelan Cole who led the Jags in receiving last year due to injuries.
There will be a plethora of opportunities for someone to step up Saturday vs. the Vikings’ vaunted defense.
Corey Grant is Coming
Jags’ fourth-year running back Corey Grant has made a name for himself on special teams, from fake punts, kickoff returns, and covering kicks. However, he is starting to increase his value on offense, most notably, in the passing game.
In last year’s AFC Championship game, Grant provided a spark for the Jags catching three passes for 59 yards. In last week’s preseason game, Grant recorded three receptions for 39 yards. Grant also gained 39 yards on two kickoff returns and recorded a tackle on special teams. On a busy night for the running back, Grant led the Jaguars in both carries and receiving yards. Although he didn’t get anything going on the ground, his versatility is clearly of value to Jacksonville.
Grant will challenge second-string running back T.J. Yeldon for playing time behind Leonard Fournette. Fournette isn’t a true every-down back; Jacksonville needs a running back who can catch the ball consistently in Hackett’s West Coast scheme.
Keep an eye on the play counts for Yeldon and Grant Saturday vs. Minnesota.